15 Must-Visit Attractions on Vancouver Island

Butchart Gardens | © Aaron Carlson / Flickr
Butchart Gardens | © Aaron Carlson / Flickr
Picture of Hayley Simpson
Updated: 27 December 2017
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Vancouver Island is a great place to visit from both the British Columbia mainland and Washington State. It is home to cute towns, BC’s capital city, and gorgeous provincial parks. Here are the 15 attractions you have to visit when exploring the island.

Inner Harbour

British Columbia’s capital, Victoria, is a picture-perfect city home to beautiful architecture, friendly locals, plenty of pubs, and a very pretty harbor. Located in the heart of the city, the Inner Harbour is where you will find Fairmont Empress (a Canadian castle and hotel) and the BC Parliament Building. It’s also where the seaplanes land and depart, and it’s the place to be during the warmer months to see buskers and attend festivals.

Victoria’s Inner Harbour
© Hayley Simpson

Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park

Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park lies in Parksville, just north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The park has a cove of Douglas fir trees and a two-kilometer (1.2-mile) stretch of sandy beach that’s a favorite with families in the summertime. At low tide, the beach can stretch up to one kilometer (0.6 miles) out into the Strait of Georgia. This natural attraction is what makes the park so popular. There’s a large campground at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park too.

Long Beach

Long Beach is one of three parts that make up the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The other two units are the Broken Group of Islands and the West Coast Trail. The beach is the largest, and longest, on Vancouver Island’s west coast. It lies in Wickaninnish Bay between Tofino and Ucluelet. Long Beach is popular with everyone, including surfers, wildlife watchers, kayakers, and swimmers. It’s also why Tofino is known as Canada’s surf capital.

Old Country Market

The Old Country Market near Coombs on Vancouver Island is world famous; the large market has a sloping grass roof that is home to several goats! In addition to saying hello to the roof’s residents, there are plenty of treats to enjoy at Old Country Market. There’s a gift shop, imported groceries, a deli, delicious ice cream, a take-out taqueria joint, Cuckoo’s Trattoria and Pizzeria, The Market Restaurant, Wabisabi Surf Shop, and so much more.

Hatley Castle

Located on the Royal Roads University campus just outside Victoria, Hatley Castle is part of the Hatley Park National Historic Site. The Scottish Baronial-style, 40-room castle, built in the early 1900s for the Dunsmuirs, sees manicured gardens surrounding it. After the Dunsmuirs passed, the Government of Canada purchased the property in 1939. It then became a military college; today, it is a museum. Hatley Castle might look quite familiar too, as it’s been used in several TV shows and films over the years.

Hatley Castle
© Hayley Simpson

Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Vancouver Island has beaches, world-famous trails, picturesque towns, and an award-winning ski resort. Mount Washington Alpine Resort is in the top 10 for best powder in Canada, according to Ski Canada Magazine. It also has a very high annual snowfall of 11.5 meters (38 feet). The ski resort is home to 81 runs, 10 lifts, and 55 kilometers (34 miles) of cross-country skiing trails.

Wild Pacific Trail

The Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet, on Vancouver Island’s west coast, is a great hiking trail that everyone can enjoy. In 2016, TripAdvisor named it the top attraction in British Columbia and one of the top 10 attractions in Canada. The Wild Pacific Trail was created by local “Oyster Jim” Martin, who began construction on the trail’s three routes in 1999; they include the Lighthouse Loop, Brown’s Beach to Artist Loops, and the coastal Rocky Bluffs Trail, which has an additional Ancient Cedar section too.

Wild Pacific Trail vistas

Royal BC Museum

Founded in 1886, the Royal BC Museum is a must-visit attraction when in Victoria. Queen Elizabeth II approved of the museum’s royal title in 1987, and it was bestowed by Prince Philip during their royal tour that year. The institution is home to the province’s natural and human history museum, as well as the British Columbia Provincial Archives. It has three main galleries: local First Nations history, modern history, and natural history. The Royal BC Museum is also the location of BC’s largest IMAX® screen.

Clayoquot Sound

Greenpeace says Clayoquot Sound is “an ecological treasure of global significance.” It includes water, inlets, islands, and one of the world’s most famous coastal temperate rainforests: 265,000 hectares that’s home to 45 endangered or threatened animal species. Due to its importance, it became British Columbia’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2000. August and September is the best time to visit to view black bears—if that interests you!

Cape Scott Provincial Park

Cape Scott Provincial Park lies on Vancouver Island’s northwestern tip. It was established in 1973 and named after the park’s lighthouse. It’s an area many visitors don’t get to explore, but its sandy beaches, rainforest, and rocky coastline are worth the trip north. There are over 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) of remote beaches in Cape Scott, with Nels Bight being the most impressive and popular. It also has many hiking trails, such as the Cape Scott Trail and all of its extensions, which are listed in detail on the BC Parks website.

Chemainus Murals

Chemainus, located in the Cowichan Valley in southeastern Vancouver Island, began as a logging town in 1858. Today, it is known for its world-famous outdoor murals, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. The 39 murals mostly depict moments—and people—of historical significance in Chemainus. There are arrows leading visitors to each painting, which is great for children. As well as the murals, the town is home to many independent stores, such as a Christmas shop and a delectable sweets store.

One of the Chemainus Murals
© Hayley Simpson

West Coast Trail

A part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the West Coast Trail is a world-famous multi-day hike. The 75-kilometer (47-mile) trail follows in the footsteps of the region’s First Nations ancestors, who have lived in the area for more than 4,000 years. The hike goes through various landscapes, such as along the beach, across rugged coastlines, and through the rainforest. Whether you want to do half or the entire hike, you must reserve a spot on the Parks Canada website.

Butchart Gardens

Botanical Garden
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Butchart Gardens is a 22-hectare (55-acre) floral wonderland and National Historic Site on Vancouver Island and receives over a million visitors annually. Located near Victoria, the gardens are famous around the world and perfect to visit year-round. Spring is when the tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths bloom; summer comes with entertainment, nighttime illuminations, and a fireworks show. The Japanese Garden shines in fall, and it’s all about the lights and the Magic of Christmas in winter.
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Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove has been attracting tourists since the 1920s. It’s the largest—and most accessible—stand of Douglas-fir trees on Vancouver Island. Some of the ancient trees have been standing in the grove for over 800 years. The largest tree reaches nine meters (29.5 ft) in circumference. There are walking trails to take you up close to these beauties. These paths, however, can get crowded in the summer months, so it’s best to arrive early.

Wolf in the Fog

“Fish. Forage. Feast.” This tagline belongs to Wolf in the Fog, a dining experience everyone should have in Tofino. Air Canada’s Enroute magazine named it Canada’s Best New Restaurant in recent years, which is a big accolade. Wolf in the Fog’s menu is based on seasonal ingredients. Their dinner menu includes plates to share, such as the wintertime Roasted Arctic Char with smoked bone marrow risotto and wild mushrooms.

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